RIVIERA MAYA, Mexico -- Walking inside the Grand Hotel at the Iberostar Playa Paraiso Resort feels a bit like slipping down the rabbit hole and landing in a lap of Alice-in-Wonderland luxury.
There's a new sight to behold in every direction, a stark contrast to the desolate desert surroundings guests see on the 45-minute ride from the Cancun International Airport.
The lobby spills into a multi-level atrium, where a jungle of plants encircles a fountain. Following the brick-paved walkway within the atrium leads to boutique shops, an Italian restaurant, a cigar bar and a karaoke bar.
At the back of the atrium, a gorgeous all-marble corridor gives the guest rooms and additional restaurants at this adult all-inclusive resort an extra air of privacy and exclusivity. Treasures -- like antique paintings and two full-size wooden carvings of Trojan horses -- add to the ornate architecture, making a walk to dinner feel more like a tour of an expensive art gallery.
And the best is still to come. The salt-water infinity pool and beach at the back of the property are where people worship the sun god, much like the Mayans did centuries before. So this is what they call paradise.
Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, a family-owned Spanish hospitality company, owns more than 100 hotels in 15 countries. The Grand Collection, its most luxurious brand, pampers guests in Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Spain, Cuba, Brazil and Hungary.
"Each one has its own personality, but we try to be consistent with their services," said Mariela Gomez, a marketing manager for Iberostar.
The Cancun version is ideal for golfers.
The Iberostar Playa Paraiso Resort experience
The Grand Hotel, opened in 2007, is just one piece of a sprawling puzzle at the Iberostar Playa Paraiso Resort, home to five hotels and more than 2,000 beds. What kind of vacation you want depends upon how much you're willing to spend. Iberostar divides its vacations into distinct categories.
A 'Grand' vacation gushes with five-star amenities: grilled lobster for lunch, a personal butler, exquisite rooms with European linens and his and hers marble vanities in the bathrooms, personalized minibars free of charge, 24-hour room service and more.
Iberostar 'Premium Gold' properties are still upscale experiences catering more to families with children. The Paraiso Maya hotel features a lobby bar that is an exact replica of the pyramid of Chichen Itza and allows access to the only wave pool on the Riviera Maya. There are plenty of benefits to staying at the two other levels -- Premium and Iberostar -- but these properties don't have as much flash and emphasize more budget-oriented getaways.
For example, guests staying at the Grand can go anywhere in the Playa Paraiso resort, but guests staying at lower-tier hotels on site can't enjoy the Grand's plush scene. Half the fun comes while exploring the entire property, checking out all the unique architectural themes and finding a cozy new bar for a drink.
Iberostar Playa Paraiso Resort golf
Golfers staying at The Grand can enjoy one or two free rounds on the resort's excellent Iberostar Playa Paraiso Golf Club, depending on their length of stay. The P.B. Dye design is kept in immaculate condition. The layout keeps players guessing with wild shaping and falloff zones around the greens.
"No two shots are the same," said Phil Bonnici, who was visiting from Massachusetts to play the course for the third year in a row.
Iberostar is currently revamping the way it treats golfers as customers. Golf won't be an afterthought anymore. They are putting together an aggressive marketing strategy to compete with other high-end destinations for business.
Consultant Tom Jaronski is helping to negotiate with other local courses to create golf packages for buddy trips and couples trips that include the spa. Jaronski is also hosting the pro-am Iberostar Team Championship Mexico in February 2013.
A sister property, the Iberostar Cancun, has a solid resort course on site about 35 minutes away to complement Playa Paraiso. But the stretch between Cancun and the Riviera Maya is littered with quality courses, including The Moon Palace by Jack Nicklaus; the El Camaleón Golf Club at Mayakoba, site of Mexico's only PGA Tour event, and the new TPC Cancun designed by Tom Fazio.
"I will put our value of packages up against anyone," Jaronski said. "That's where we hope to play and win the game. You can enjoy the beverage cart and range balls and not get hit with the extra charges. You don't have to reach into your pocket.